Sunday, December 28, 2008

Puerto Ricans on Bikes?

Just a few days ago, I rented a bike here in Rotterdam for only one day and it was so much fun! I'm ashamed to say this, but I haven't biked in over two years and I was just enjoying every second of it. Biking, unfortunately, is not something most ordinary Puerto Ricans do. Like most Americans, Puerto Ricans rely on cars to get around. There's at least one car per household in Puerto Rico. On the other hand, in the Netherlands, everyone here owns at least one bicycle. There are in fact over 18 million bikes in this country of over 16 million people. This means there are more bikes than people! Incredible, isn't?

You can basically travel throughout the Netherlands by bike. How I wish I can do this in Puerto Rico. I suppose this is like comparing apples and oranges. For starters, cycling is not part of the Puerto Rican culture. The landscape and terrain between the two countries are quite different as well. However, like the Netherlands, the population density in Puerto Rico is heavily concentrated around one predominant area, which is San Juan. Therefore, cycling does make sense, if only city planners did a better job of mapping out routes. Of course, there are cycling events in Puerto Rico. However, they're more for the serious cyclists.

During my one day of biking, we biked through villages, several different parks and Rotterdam. Since the bike lanes are clearly marked, it was quite easy to navigate. In general, motorists are quite respective of cyclists as well. I can now understand why the Dutch are in so much better shape than the average Puerto Rican and American. Biking is a terrific workout! There is hope though, as several cities in the U.S, such as New York City, are trying to encourage and promote cycling as a way of transportation. Perhaps, one day, we'll see more ordinary Puerto Ricans on bikes one day.... although I don't see it happening anytime in the near future.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Felicidades... Happy Holidays... Prettige Feestdagen!

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season! The holidays are always a very special time of the year. May each and everyone of us be blessed with the joy of sharing and being in the good company of others during the holiday festivities. I am far away from my family and closest friends at the moment, but I do feel this undescribeable connection with them. I am celebrating with you guys in spirit! As they say in Dutch... prettige feestdagen (happy holidays)!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Destination: Berlin, Germany

One of the best things about being in Europe is the ability to easily travel across the continent and experience different cultures, explore foreign countries, and hear different languages. This is perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages of living in Puerto Rico. It's an island, and so you're pretty much limited as to how far you can go. Of course, as with most things in life, there are pros and cons to everything. A few days ago, we came back from one of the most fascinating cities in Europe... Berlin! We were there for only 3 days and 2 nights and it was definitely not enough time.

Berlin is a city which I would absolutely love to re-visit. It's a place full of history, culture and action. If you plan on visiting, I highly suggest you get a Berlin Card, which allows you to use the public transportation system (S & U Bahns) for an unlimited time, depending on which type of card you purchase. The card also gives you discounts at certain musuems, such as the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which was fascinating. If you're interested in learning about the history of Germany, you should consider it. There was quite a lot of information about the rise of Hitler, World War II and the Holocaust, of course.

The Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, and the Jewish Memorial were also great places to visit... and the list goes on. Berlin is a city that's great for walking. Since it is the Christmas season, the city was filled with Christmas markets. I am a great fan of markets, and needless to say, I was having the time of my life! The Germans certainly know how to celebrate the holidays. The atmosphere was so wonderful at the markets. Everyone was sipping gl├╝hwein (a red wine), eating bratwurst (they are so good!), and enjoying the company of their family or friends. Germany is definitely a great place to visit during the Christmas season.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Celebrating Cultural Differences

During my continued observations from a far far away land, it simply amazes me how different some cultures can be. We all occupy the same world but yet we've all got our quirks and I embrace them all. This world would be so boring if we were all the same. One of the things which struck me most about the Dutch culture is how nearly all households leave their window curtains open, even if they lived on the first floor. In Puerto Rico, most houses (mine included) have rejas (it literally means "bars" in spanish) for security concerns. However, in the Netherlands, the windows are usually huge, spotless and available for all to look into. From what I've seen, and based on my experiences with the Dutch, houses are usually kept very clean. It really is quite impressive.

Yesterday, as I was standing in line at a store, I was reminded of yet another interesting Dutch custom. In the U.S and Puerto Rico, when you greet a family member or a close friend, you usually kiss each other on the cheek once. On the other hand, most Europeans kiss each other twice, once on each cheek. Well, get a hold of this. The Dutch actually kiss each other three times! No, the last kiss is not on the chin or forehead. The third kiss ends up being on the same cheek which you started off with. One thing which the Dutch and the Spanish language do have in common is having a word for "enjoy your meal." In Spanish, that would be "buen provecho." In Dutch, it's "eet smakelijk." Wish we had the same word in English, instead of saying it in French, "buon appetit."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Greetings from Rotterdam!

At this moment, I am actually not observing from the Island of Enchantment. Instead, for the next few weeks, I will be thousands of miles away from the sunny and warm Caribbean. I am in Rotterdam, the Netherlands! To say the very least, I do miss the warm weather. After living in Puerto Rico for over two years, I am just not used to the cold anymore. When the weather dips down to the high 70'sF, most Boricuas consider it to be cold and put on a jacket. Yeah, unbelievable, right?

As much as I love Puerto Rico's warm climate, I am enjoying the change of scenery. Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands. I have been here before on several occassions, and I've written about this country before and will continue to do so during my stay here. Traveling has always given me interesting experiences, which I love to share as long as it helps others. Besides, the Dutch culture is different and it makes for some interesting comparisons. This is especially true as compared with life in Puerto Rico.

One of the starkest contrasts between the Netherlands and Puerto Rico, for example, is the timeliness and efficiency of public transportation. Well, let me back up just a bit, the Dutch have one of the best public transportation systems in the world. Perhaps it's not fair for me to compare between the one here and the nonexistent one in Puerto Rico. Generally speaking, the Dutch tend to be very punctual, although probably less so than the Germans. On the other hand, punctuality is something entirely foreign to most Puerto Ricans.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Difficult Holiday Season

Every time I watch the news, I hear about a massive round of layoffs and the Dow plummeting yet again. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, or are on the verge of losing them, and seeing their 401k account practically get wiped out. Christmas and New Years is right around the corner and I can only imagine how difficult this holiday season will be for many families. Here in Puerto Rico, I've begun to see an increasing number of homeless people. Crime is also on the rise. For those of you who have never visited the island, you probably never thought of Puerto Rico as an island besotted with a large number of social ills. Think again.

Over 40% of the population of Puerto Rico lives in poverty. In addition, the public education system is crumbling. Domestic violence is also a very serious problem here. The news is grim but yet I try my best to keep a positive mentality. I would be living in a fantasy world if I didn't acknowledge and pay attention to what is happening around me though. Lately, I've been questioning myself about why this world is the way it is. Hope is what drives us forward as human beings and I sure do hope things will be better in 2009.